Wednesday, August 23, 2017

From fire lighter to physics major

Giving a big shout out to our youngest, Shaun Fell. As a physics student at UW, he elected to stay on campus this summer to continue his coursework and research. Finals finished last week and grades were posted last night—he earned a 4.0 across the board in Mathematical Physics and Experimental Physics.

Earning a degree in physics at age 21, Shaun recently decided to apply for a triple major by adding math and astronomy, and the other night he asked me to read over his essay application for the math major. Intrigued to see what he wrote, I agreed. I mean, how much can someone say about math? It's all numbers, letters, and weird symbols you'll never need. Who uses this stuff anyway?

But what I read took my breath away:

"Physics by itself is, of course, a beautiful and elegant window that allows us to glimpse into our very existence. When we intertwine it with the powerful answers that arise from math, we harness a powerful language with which to understand the very nature of reality."

Okay. Maybe moms don't always know best. 

For my Facebook friends who have a child who prefers playing in the neighborhood and balks to open a book between September and June, take heart. Shaun was one of those. 

Really. He was. Until age 13.

First, his 15-year-old sister died in an accident. Less than 3 years later, his dad—his best friend—suffered a life-changing stroke. 

Our world had collapsed and my brain was too clouded by grief to watch what my young teenage son was doing at a critical time in his life. The kid who my neighbor and I once caught trying to light a light an aerosol can on fire "to see what would happen" was left to fend for himself, or so it felt to me.

How, then, did he turn out so well? Did he build his resiliency muscle like Sheryl Sandberg writes in Option B? 

No. I don't believe so. Three key components happened that brought beauty back into Shaun's life. 

First is that our family was surrounded by a circle of love, compassion and prayers. People built a tribe of support around us. They didn't understand, but loved us anyway. That love permeated through the fog, and became the foundation for my work. As a member of our family, Shaun was a recipient of that love, compassion and support.

Second is that Shaun found music. He played the piano and drummed nonstop for 6 solid years. Instead of studying, he drummed. Instead of playing with the neighbor boys, he drummed. While dad learned to walk again and mom fought for sanity, he drummed. Instinctively, I knew that as long as he was drumming, our teenager was safe at home venting his pain in a healthy—albeit noisy—way. What's the musical tattoo on Shaun's left arm? The notes to his sister's favorite song, Mr. Blue Sky.

Third is that when Shaun was 17, our family was gifted with a little furball we named Beethoven. The power of pet therapy has long been proven but is now gaining more credibility, and rightfully so. Beethoven became Shaun's best friend, and they remain inseparable to this day. When Shaun comes home from college, Beethoven gets the first hug. 

While Shaun is doing extraordinarily well today, we don't hold our breath that life will be smooth sailing from here on out. Life doesn't work that way. 

But we believe that while not every day is beautiful, there is beauty in every day. And today's beauty is that our kid who never cracked open a book in high school just earned a 4.0 and made the UW Dean's List for the fourth time.

It's safe to say I no longer have to hide the aerosol cans. 


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